Headie One & Fred Again.. are triumphant on collaborative debut

Rating: 4/5

Headie One is a man with a lot to say. He radiates the same energy as fellow grime rapper Dave, which made their hit single 18HUNNA such an enormous success. But Headie One is an artist with perhaps greater crossover appeal. In 18HUNNA, Headie made drill not only accessible but the number 1 genre in the country. Headie One, real name Irving Adjei, rapped about gold chains, big cars, success, whilst Dave joined in on a verse rapping about twins in Leicester that aren’t getting any rings from him.

On GANG, Headie One teams up with producer Fred Again.. who, unlike so many nameless producers, deserves major credit. It’s as much an electronic music project as a drill album, and at a blisteringly short 22 minutes, Fred and Headie make use of every second. But it is Headie’s lyrics which transform the project into an emotional rollercoaster. “We march on,” Headie raps on the albums emotional ender, perhaps a relevant mantra during these strange times.

On album opener, Told, Headie raps about his lessons, repeating that this is what he was told. It marks a deliberate left turn in his sound, Headie rapping over tinkering pianos and broken up, distorted beats, as opposed to the big, bassy beats that he had reached number 1 for. The emotional climax is reached in the middle, where the beat breaks down and comes back with Headie singing, backed by an autotune that makes his voice sound emotionally charged.

What makes this album so brilliant is the fact that Headie completely bares his soul, but it is Fred Again.. who has a brilliant supporting role. Fred isn’t the only one producer who shows up on the album. On Smoke, Jamie xx provides part of the production, his usual skittish beats play over Fred’s use of phone conversations and recordings of “late nights now forgotten”. It provides one of the albums highlights, with Headie starting with a repeated flow of “smoke, dust, phones, drugs, soc’, lost, no, love”, and some brilliant verses, rapping about Headie’s experiences coming up against the legal system and his experiences of love.

The career of Headie One has been extraordinary.

FKA Twigs and Slowthai also provide fantastic short feature spots on interludes. FKA Twigs’ vocals are alive, gorgeous, over a another stuttering piano beat, and Slowthai finds himself being recorded and then played over with autotune.

Although it’s only 8 tracks long, GANG feels complete. It’s a sign of a rapper and producer right at the top of their game. It’s an emotional roller coaster of an album. Closer “SOLDIERS” features Sampha, who uses every moment of his feature spot. It’s an incredible track, where Headie sounds at the peak of his emotional maturity, weary of the many lessons that he’s learnt throughout his life. It’s deep, brilliant, and one of the best rap albums to be released this year so far.

Leave a Comment